By Algernon Charles Swinburne (1860)


'The unfriendly elements

Forgot thee utterly ---

Where, for a monument upon thy bones,

And e'er-remaining lamps, the belching whale

And humming water must o'erwhelm thy corpse ;

Lying with simple shells.' --- PERICLES [III.I].



As one who having dreamed all night of death

Puts out a hand to feel the sleeping face

Next his, and wonders that the lips have breath --

So we, for years not touching on their trace,

Marvelled at news of those we counted dead,

'For now the strong snows in some iron place

Have covered them; their end shall not be said

Till all the hidden parts of time be plain

And all the writing of all years be read.'

So men spake sadly and their speech was vain,

For here the end stands clear, and men at ease

May gather the sharp fruit of that past pain

Out in some barren creek of the cold seas

Where the slow shapes of the grey water-weed

Freeze midway as the languid inlets freeze.



This is the end. There is no nobler word

In the large writing and scored marge of time

Than such endurance is. Ear hath not heard

Nor hath eye seen in all the world's bounded clime

The patience of their life, as the sharp years

And the slow months wrought out their rounded rhyme

No man made count of those keen hopes and fears

Which were such labour to them, it may be;

That strong sweet will whereto pain ministers

And sharpest time doth service patiently.

Wrought without praise or failed without a name,

Those gulfs and inlets of the channelled sea

Hide half the witness that should fill with fame

Our common air in England, and the breath

That speech of them should kindle to keen flame

Flags in the midway record of their death.



Is this the end? is praise so light a thing

As rumour unto rumour tendereth

And time wears out of care and thanks-giving?

Then praise and shame have narrow difference,

If either fly with so displumed wing

That chance and time and this imprisoned sense

Can maim or measure the spanned flight of it

By the ruled blanks of their experience,

Then only Fortune hath the scroll and writ

Of all good deeds our memory lives upon;

And the slack judgment of her barren wit

Appoints the award of all things that are done.



The perfect choice and rarest of all good

Abides not in broad air or public sun;

Being spoke of, it is not understood;

Being shown, it has no beauty to be loved;

And the slow pulse of each man's daily blood

For joy thereat is no more quickly moved;

Itself has knowledge of itself, and is

By its own witness measured and approved;

Yea, even well pleased to be otherwise;

Nor wear the raiment of a good repute

Nor have the record of large memories.

Close leaves combine above the covered fruit;

Earth, that gives much, holds back her costliest;

And in blind night sap comes into the root;

Things known are good, but hidden things are best.

Therefore, albiet we know good deeds of these,

Let no man deem he knows the worthiest.

He who hath found the measure of the seas,

And the wind's ways have ruled and limited,

He knows the print of their wild passages,

The same may speak the praise of these men dead.

And having heard him we may surely know

There is no more to say than he hath said

And as his witness is the thing was so.



What praise shall England give these men her friends?

For while the bays and the large channels flow

In the broad sea between the iron ends

Of the posied world where no safe sail may be,

And for white miles the hard ice never blends

With the chill washing edges of dull sea --

And while to praise her green and girdled land

Shall be the same as to praise Liberty --

So long the record of these men shall stand,

Because they chose not life but rather death,

Each side being weighed with a most equal hand,

Because the gift they had of English breath

They did give back to England for her sake

Like those dead seamen of Elizabeth

And those who wrought with Nelson and with Blake

To do great England service their lives long --

High honour shall they have; their deeds shall make

Their spoken names sound sweeter than all song.

This England hath not made a better man,

More steadfast, or more wholly pure of wrong

Since the large book of English praise began.

For out of his great heart and reverence,

And finding love too large for life to span,

He gave up life, that she might gather thence

The increase of the seasons and their praise.

Therefore his name shall be her evidence,

And wheresoever tongue or thought gainsays

Our land the witness of her ancient worth,

She may make answer to the later days

That she was chosen also for this birth,

And take all honour to herself and laud,

Because such men are made out of her earth

Yea, wheresoever her report is broad,

This new thing also shall be said of her

That hearing it, hate may not stand unawed

That Franklin was her friend and minister;

So shall the alien tongue forego its blame,

And for his love shall hold her lovelier

And for his worth more worthy; so his fame

Shall be the shield and strength of her defence,

Since where he was can be not any shame.



These things that are and shall abide from hence

It may be that he sees them now, being dead.

And it may be that when the smitten sense

Began to pause, and pain was quieted,

And labour almost kissed the lips of peace,

And sound and sight of usual things had fled

From the most patient face of his decease,

He saw them also then; we cannot say;

But surely when the pained breath found ease

And put the heaviness of life away,

Such things as these were not estranged from him;

The soul, grown too rebellious to stay

This shameful body where all things are dim,

Abode awhile in them and was made glad

In its blind pause upon the middle rim

Between the new life and the life it had,

This noble England that must hold him dear,

Always, and always in his name keep sad

Her histories, and embalm with costly fear

And with rare hope and with a royal pride

Her memories of him that honoured her,

Was this not worth the pain wherein he died?

And in that lordly praise and large account

Was not his ample spirit satisfied?

He who slakes thirst at some uncleaner fount

Shall thirst again; but he shall win full ease

Who finds pure wells far up the painful mount.



For the laborious time went hard with these

Among the thousand colours and gaunt shapes

Of the strong ice cloven with breach of seas,

Where the waste sullen shadow of steep capes

Narrows across the cloudy-coloured brine

And by strong jets the angered foam escapes,

And a sad touch of sun scores the sea-line

Right at the middle motion of the noon

And then fades sharply back, and the cliffs shine

Fierce with keen snows against a kindled moon

In the hard purple of the bitter sky,

And thro' some rift as tho' an axe had hewn

Two spars of crag athwart alternately

Flares the loose lIght of that large Boreal day

Down half the sudden heaven, and with a cry

Sick sleep is shaken from the soul away,

And men leap up to see and have delight

For the sharp flame and strength of its white ray

From east to west burning upon the night;

And cliff and berg take fire from it, and stand

Like things distinct in customary sight,

And all the northern foam and frost,

and all The wild ice lying large to either hand;

And like the broken stones of some strange wall

Built to be girdle to the utmost earth,

Brow-bound with snows and made imperial,

Lean crags with coloured ice for crown and girth

Stand midway with those iron seas in face

Far up the straitened shallows of the firth.




So winter-bound in such disastrous place,

Doubtless the time seemed heavier and more hard

Than elsewhere in all scope and range of space;

Doubtless the backward thought and broad regard

Was bitter to their soqls, remembering

How in soft England the warm lands were starred

With gracious flowers in the green front of spring,

And all the branches' tender over-growth,

Where the quick birds took sudden heart to sing;

And how the meadows in their sweet May sloth

Grew thick with grass as soft as song or sleep;

So, looking back, their hearts grew sere and loath

And their chafed pulses felt the blood to creep

More vexed and painfully; yea, and this too

Possessed perchance their eyes with thirst to weep

More than green fields or the May weather's blue

Mere recollection of aU dearer things.

Slight words they used to say, slight work to do,

When every day was more than many springs,

And the strong April moved at heart, and made

Sweet mock at fortune and the seat of kings;

The naked sea and the bare lengths of land

And all the years that fade and grow and fade

Were pleasant years for them to live upon,

And time's gold raiment was not rent nor frayed;

But now they know not if such things be done,

Nor how the old ways and old places fare,

Nor whether there be change in the glad sun,

Defect and loss in all the fragrant air;

New feet are in the waymarks of their feet;

The bitter savour of remembered sweet

No doubt did touch their lips in some sharp guise;

No doubt the pain of thought and fever-heat

Put passion in the patience of their eyes --



Yet in the edge and keenest nerve of pain

For no such comfort ever wholly dies,

And as hurt patience healed and grew again

This knowledge came, that neither land nor life

Nor all soft things whereof the will is fain

Nor love of friends not wedded faith of wife

Nor all of these nor any among these

Make a man's best, but rather loss and strife,

Failure, endurance, and high scorn of ease;

Love strong as death, and valour strong as love,

Therefore among the winter-wasted seas,

No flaw being found upon them to reprove, --

These whom GOD's grace, calling them one by one,

In unknown ways did patiently remove,

To have new heaven and earth, new air and sun, --

These chose the best; therefore their name shall be

Part of all noble things that shall be done,

Part of the royal record of the sea.